Nov. 16, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Taking over a new program and working to build a championship culture is always fraught with obstacles. As men's soccer first-year head coach Chaka Daley found out, even when you are a seasoned veteran in the sport, things don't always work out as you would expect. The 2012 men's soccer season has not been anything like Daley has experienced -- both good and bad.
The good: After missing out on the NCAA Tournament in 2011, the Wolverines fought back into the national discussion and are moving on in the NCAA Tournament after last night's 3-1 win over Niagara. Michigan got hot at the right time, winning six of the last seven games after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The bad: Not an injury that sidelined a student-athlete, but an injury that put the head coach out of commission at the worst possible time.
The Wolverines were getting set for their toughest stretch of the regular season. After playing a home game against Oakland, they were headed to play Wisconsin on the road, do battle with an NCAA power at Akron, and then go up against the toughest Big Ten team of the last 20 years, Indiana, in Bloomington. The coaching staff was pointing to these games; they knew this was the team's chance to turn the season around.
The night prior to the Oakland game, Daley and his six-year-old son were "Booing." To be "Booed" is a pre-Halloween take on "Secret Santa" where children secretly leave small gifts on the door steps of a neighbor's house, ring the doorbell, then run and hide.
As Daley "Booed" with his son, they rang the bell of a neighbor and ran. His son, six-year-old Donovan, went one way and Chaka hurdled a small bush, slipped and crashed into a brick wall. He knew the injury was bad. He couldn't get up.
Early Tuesday, he set up appointment after appointment with doctors.
After coaching in terrible pain from the press box on Tuesday night against Oakland, he went for the MRI. The scans were not pretty. It showed a torn patella tendon requiring Daley to go in for surgery on Friday prior to the Wisconsin game.
Daley was out -- literally. Not only was travel out of the question due to health risks, he could not attend practice during the one week of the season he believed everyone -- student-athletes and coaches -- needed to be at the top of their game. And for the first time in his coaching career, Daley was going be the individual sidelined. Assistant coach Tommy McMenemy would take over as the field general.
The team and staff visited Daley for planning strategy and meetings, but it wasn't the same. Losses to Wisconsin and Akron placed U-M in a difficult position going to Bloomington. The Hoosiers had a 14-1-1 series record against our Michigan men, and this game was vitally important.
Daley knew he had to do something, and prior to the game he gave what might be the first pregame speech by cell phone to his team. Who knows if the Wolverines responded to Daley via the phone, but the team's preparation was perfect, giving U-M a 2-1 win.
Daley was ready to celebrate and get back into the game, but he found out that a championship culture doesn't come about because of just one victory.
He returned to the sideline against Bowling Green. Due to the injury and leg cast, he was forced to sit in the dugout back from the field. He felt a disconnect with the team, and probably his team felt that same disconnect. BGSU defeated U-M. The loss was hard to take.
In the next game against Valparaiso, the team went into the same funk in the first half. That's when Daley delivered a halftime speech that could never have been by phone.
He outlined again how a winning culture needed to be built over time not in one game. He spoke to them about the need to be part of larger legacy, more than just a win against Indiana. He lit a fire under the team that started the streak.
Daley was able to return to his old self and give back to the team and his staff rather quickly. The Wolverines beat Detroit and Michigan State to close out the regular season, then gained revenge on Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. And with Chaka on the sideline, U-M advanced to the Big Ten finale before losing in overtime on the wind-swept pitch.
As for McMenemy, Daley was also able to return a huge favor. Daley had full confidence when he handed over the reins to his assistant, and now Chaka found himself on the sideline without his assistant. McMenemy returned home prior to the Big Ten Tournament to be with his wife Jenn for the birth of their first son, Rhodes. Without his full staff, Daley appreciated more than ever what McMenemy was able to accomplish in Chaka's absence.
The team, as well as coaching staff, has had its ups and downs, on and off the field. They have fought back to get hot at the right time for the NCAA Tournament, and they have felt both sadness and joy for their two coaches as Daley was sidelined with an injury and McMenemy and his wife brought a new team member on board. Now, they are all a family and understand what it takes to be part of something that will stand the test of time.
As for Daley, his injury might also have given him a little more insight.
He knows it can really hurt when you get "Booed."
Keep it going in the NCAA Tournament!